“All disease begins in the gut.” – Hippocrates
2500 years ago Hippocrates said this and traditional medicine systems like Traditional African Medicine, Ayurvedic Medicine and Chinese medicine understood this clearly but it was somehow overlooked by modern medicine. However, in recent years scientific research has shown that gut health is not only central to overall health but it has an effect on brain health, autoimmune conditions, lung health, heart health, skin health, hormone health, mental health and even impacts diseases like obesity, diabetes and many other chronic medical illnesses.
Our Gastrointestinal Tract is made up of 100 trillion ‘bacterial’ cells (microbiome), which is ten times more than the amount of ‘human’ cells. These bacteria are involved in digestion, detoxification, production of nutrients, protecting us against pathogens and lastly, regulating the immune system.
When the microbiome gets disrupted, it leads to many diseases within and outside the gut. A quick fix treatment for these problems is temporary only for the cycle to repeat itself. A good example is a child starting school. The child gets ill, is taken to the doctor and is then treated with an antibiotic, only for the child to get sick again a few weeks later. Sometimes, it may even seem as if the child didn’t get better at all. This is exhausting for the child, the parents, the family and the teachers. And in the process, we land up losing so much time, energy, money and even our mind when we’re dealing with a child who is sick all the time. It is normal for a child to get sick but not every 2 weeks or every month.
We also know that infants that aren’t breastfed and are born to mothers with bad gut flora are more likely to develop unhealthy gut bacteria and that these early differences in gut flora may predict health problems in the future.
While there are ways to help ‘fix’ the gut, understanding how we can prevent those issues in the first place is key.
Things That Disrupt the Gut Microbiome
- Medications: Antibiotics are overused to treat any ailment and have long-term effects on health.
Other medications: Oral contraceptives, NSAIDS (Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), diabetic medication, etc.
- Diets high in refined carbohydrates, sugar and processed foods
- Diets low in fermentable fibres
- Dietary toxins like wheat and industrial seed oils that cause leaky gut
- Chronic stress
- Chronic infections
Sterile or overly clean environments (antibacterial soaps, over-sanitising, etc)
If you have been exposed to some of these factors, there are steps you can take to restore your gut flora. With Gut health, the ‘free medicine’ with diet goes a long way. Start with the top few steps and if you have no luck, then seeing an integrative doctor will finetune your treatment plan.
- Spend time outdoors in nature or with your pets. Get your hands dirty with the soil. Lie on the grass. Expose yourself to the sunshine.
- Eat plenty of fibre from whole foods like fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds and whole grains like rice, quinoa, barley, etc. It is important to note that there is no fibre in dairy, egg, chicken, fish and red meat.
- Remove sugar, processed food (including processed meat) and food toxins from your diet.
- Eat fermented foods like kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, miso, tempeh, and lassi.
- Manage your stress.
- Take a high-quality probiotic and rotate that every few months.
- You may need to see your doctor to treat any intestinal infections (parasites, bacteria, fungi) as well as use supplemental digestive enzymes or gut-healing herbs.
- Try avoiding antibiotics as much as possible.
The aim is to always grow the inherent bacteria through food and fermented products. Probiotics, although beneficial, are ‘tourists’ and assist the gut only when they’re in the system. If we have 100 trillion bacteria, probiotics that usually contain a million or billion bacteria, don’t even touch the surface of what has been lost with medication use.
Once “missing” beneficial bacteria is restored, it’s important to practice and maintain good gut stewardship through purposeful lifestyle choices.
In a time where we don’t seem to have enough time and energy to focus on the tiny details of life, we need to always remember our ‘WHY.’
Why do we want to do this for our kids? Why do we need to do this for our kids? If we can remember that question, we will be able to take those tiny steps daily.
Establishing a healthy gut early on and maintaining it early in life is critical to ensuring health as an adult.